“Seventy-six trombones led the big parade. With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand. They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos, the cream of every famous band!” sang Professor Harold Hill in “The Music Man.”
Wilmington has its own music man — without the shenanigans and tomfoolery of Professor Hill, of course — by the name of Paul Shivers.
Paul has been my good friend for 62 years. We first met in September 1960 at Denver Place School, the year Port William consolidated with Wilmington City Schools.
I had been a drummer, of sorts, at Port, in a band of about 20 classmates with varying degrees of talent. To say the band sounded better than the River City Boys Band would be an overstatement.
It was my second week in the new school when I met Paul, a percussionist extraordinaire. It was obvious to see, even at this early age, that Paul was a gifted musician. His drum rolls were as smooth as silk.
“Do you read music? Do you know the five-stroke roll? How about the nine-stroke roll? Do you know how to flamadiddle or paradiddle?” Paul asked me on one of our first days in the band room.
He came over and shook my sweating hands as we readied to audition for our music teacher, Rodger O. Borror. He gave his infectious laugh and that look he always gives me.
I looked at Paul with a blank stare. He might as well have been asking if I understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I shook my head.
“The only song I can play on the drums is the Washington Post March,” I said. “And I don’t play that very well.”
“Just watch me,” he answered. He was flawless.
The sweat now had spread from my palms to my face, over my lips, down my back, and was settling someplace between my clavicle and shoulder blade. My blue shirt turned colors as the perspiration spread like the Mississippi River on a spring day in the backwater country.
Mr. Borror came over and asked me the same questions Paul had asked me. He didn’t request me to play, he just started writing in a little notebook he carried.
Before Mr. Borror mentioned anything to me, Paul said, “Mr. Borror, I’ll help him. He may do OK with some lessons. I’ll show him.”
There were two things I learned that day: Paul Shivers was one of the finest percussionists I have ever known; and there wasn’t a nicer, or kinder, young man in Clinton County. He was, and still is, a gentle soul with genuine goodness about him. We became fast friends.
We spent six years together in the marching, symphonic, and community bands at Wilmington High School. Some of my best times were spent with Paul.
Paul quickly changed from a high-schooler to a college man. He continued his formal education in instrumental and vocal music, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Miami University and a master’s degree from Ohio University. He taught music in public schools for 38 years, most of the time “north of Columbus,” as they say.
Twenty-three years ago, Paul and his wife, Cindy, decided to return home to Wilmington. They opened a business, For A Song And A Story, one that makes you feel good when you walk inside the doors.
Paul spoke of his and Cindy’s business and said: “Here is where we shine brightest, providing top-notch instruction for anyone who wants to venture into the world of music. Over 200 students come in each week and take instruction from about 20 different instructors. The list of opportunities is nearly endless and includes piano, voice and drums as well as nearly any instrument you can imagine.”
Paul said music is his world. Thanks to him, I, like many others in Clinton County, can read music, execute the five-stroke and the nine-stroke rolls. I can even still flamadiddle and paradiddle from time to time.
For A Song And A Story is more than a music store. It is a gathering place, with memories that take us back to a different time in downtown Wilmington.
Formerly a nursing home, when we take a deep breath, we still get hints of lavender perfume of the patients still clinging to the walls and the giant wooden floorboards.
Paul and Cindy’s comfortable bookstore held us together; a balm that soothed our minds and hearts, when we needed to hear the happy music play.
When the sun goes down on Labor Day, after two decades, the large front doors of For A Song And A Story will close for the last time.
And, as the curtain came down, Marian the Librarian stood on the bridge singing, “There was love all around, but we never heard it singing. No, we never heard it at all, ‘til there was you.”
Paul Shivers, Wilmington’s special music man, we feel the same way about you.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.